Redistricting reform

August 19, 2008

Tuesday, August 19 In a discussion of a possible redrawing of Massachusetts congressional districts after the 2010 census, U.S. Representative John Olver reminded members of The Eagle's editorial board that the state Legislature could do essentially what it wants when it comes to redistricting. But should it? History suggests that politics plays a dominant role in redistricting, and not just in Massachusetts, and a better system should be found before 2010.

The mammoth First District that Mr. Olver represents includes Mount Washington on the borders of Connecticut and New York and West Townsend on the border of New Hampshire, and is drawn in a way that the veteran Democrat acknowledged was "pretty strange." This is because redistricting is designed to protect incumbents, not serve the interests of voters, by including communities that are generally supportive of them and excluding those that are not. Should the state lose a congressional seat after the 2010 census, as seems likely, the First District may get a lot stranger, to the detriment of the Berkshires.

In Washington, bipartisan legislation has been introduced to fix this process by creating independent boards to make redistricting truly non-partisan. Redrawing districts between censuses, a stunt pulled by Representative Tom Delay in Texas before he left office in disgrace, would be banned.

Not surprisingly, this effort is stalled in Washington, but these reform measures could be done by the state Legislature, as have the legislative bodies in other states. Our Berkshire delegation should make redistricting reform a priority, because if redistricting is mishandled after 2010, the Berkshires will suffer for it.